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06/14/2016

~ Flatbread in a hurry? Easy No-Yeast Indian Naan ~

IMG_8083From biryani to vindaloo, whenever I cook Indian fare, I can't, in good conscience, serve it without flatbread.  My Indian girlfriends have all explained to me the integral role their many varieties of flatbread (and crepes) play in their very diverse Indian culture and cuisine.  Every Indian cook knows how to make their family's traditional breads, and, every Indian cook serves one or more types every day with almost every meal.  Not making it is not an option.  That's that.

IMG_0412India is very complex culturally, geographically and religiously. Over the centuries, Indian food has been influenced by many foreign cuisines due to invasions and the rules imposed by those governments.  During times of upheaval, it was often necessary for large populaces (who for generations had lived their entire lives in one region of India with their religious culture and cuisine) to migrate to another region.  

This slow, logistical cross-pollination of religious beliefs and food traditions, mixed with the 'politics du jour', makes it hard for Western cooks to decide 'right or wrong' when it comes to preparing many Indian dishes, as, cooking styles vary from state to state, town to town, and cook to cook.  Example:  I've learned from three Indian woman and they all do things differently.

61d8ed69be506b2fab64fc072c87c0e1Naan was the first Indian flatbread I wanted to learn how to make because, as a Westerner, it was most familiar to me. Naan is so popular here in America, you can find it in every grocery store -- Naan pizza is one of my favorite snacks!

Unlike some of the other Indian flatbreads which are unleavened and made from durum wheat flour (like chapati and roti), the slightly thicker naan is made with all-purpose flour and yeast.  Yogurt (in place of milk) is often used to impart flavor, and, it's often enhanced with fragrant  additions like fresh garlic, onion, coriander or mint.  Some versions are even stuffed with sweet or savory mixtures of nuts and raisins or potatoes and onions.   Traditionally, the dough is slapped against the chimney wall of a clay tandoor oven to bake over a wood fire.  It gets its teardrop shape because the dough sags down a little while baking on the tandoor.  

IMG_8093It's rare for an Indian household to have a tandoor oven, so, home cooks developed a way to make it on the stovetop.  My friend Mytri showed me how she makes it and I was pleased to find it easy. She also took the time to show me her family's short-cut method for making it without yeast, by substituting baking powder.  While I adore Mytri's "Naan with Yeast & Yogurt" recipe, I am here to tell you:

When my Indian dinner is being served in a short 30-minutes... 

... my go-to Indian flatbread recipe is:  No-Nonsense Naan w/o Yeast!

IMG_8073Naan made in this manner, without yeast, can't be beat in that once you've done it once or twice, from start to finish, it literally, can be measured, mixed, rolled and cooked in 30 minutes.  No special skills or equipment are required, just be sure to roll each ball of dough very thin, to a thickness of about 1/8", and, if you've got a nonstick crepe pan or skillet, now is the time to use it.

IMG_80172 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sugar

1/2-1  teaspoon garlic powder (optional, but I always add it)

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon baking powder

2  tablespoons olive oil

1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons milk

1/4  cup salted butter, melted (2 tablespoons/1/4  stick) 

IMG_8023 IMG_8025 IMG_8027 IMG_8029~Step 1.  In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  flour, sugar, optional garlic powder, salt and baking powder.  Using a spoon, make a well in the center of the mixture, add the olive oil, then stir it in until it forms little clumps of oil throughout the flour.  Make a second well in the center of the mixture and add the milk.  Using the spoon, stir and work the milk into the flour until a rough, sticky mass forms.  Using the heel of your hand, knead the dough, right in the bowl, by gathering it up, pushing down on it, and giving the bowl a quarter of a turn after each push. Knead the dough, for a full 3 minutes.  You will have a ball of dough that weights 16 ounces.

IMG_8037 IMG_8039 IMG_8042 IMG_8045~Step 2.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the dough into 8, 2-ounce pieces.  On a unfloured wooden pastry board (no need for bench flour -- this dough is very pleasant to work with), using your hand, form each piece into a ball.  Using a small rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into an elongated oval freeform shape, roughly 6"-6 1/2" long and 4"-4 1/2" wide.

IMG_8068 IMG_8064~ Step 3. Heat a 10" crepe pan or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (no need for oil, butter or no-stick cooking sprays if you're using a nonstick pan).  

One at a time, place a piece of IMG_8069dough on the hot skillet.  Cook on the first side, about 1-1 1/2 minutes -- air bubbles will form randomly across the surface.  Using a nonstick spatula, flip the naan over to cook on the second side. The first side will be speckled with lots of golden brown marks.  Cook on second side, 45-60 seconds, gently pressing down on its surface with the back of the spatula occasionally, to flatten, by releasing the steam from the air bubbles.  

Brush naan w/melted butter & serve hot, warm or at room temp:

IMG_8081Flatbread in a hurry?:  Easy No-Yeast Indian Naan:  Recipe yields 8 naan/4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; spoon; kitchen scale, wooden pastry board; small rolling pin; 10" crepe pan or nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; pastry brush

PICT2757Cook's Note:  I've always been fascinated by flatbreads from all cultures.  For another one of my favorites, ~ In Praise of Perfectly Baked Pita (Pocket) Bread ~ click into Category 2 or 5.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

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